Report urges sweeping reforms to reinvigorate India’s ‘stagnant’ civil service
India’s civil service is in “urgent” need of reform to keep pace with the country’s economic growth, a US foreign policy think-tank has warned.
In a report published earlier this month, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the bureaucratic quality of the Indian Administrative Service was widely perceived to be either “stagnant or in decline”
Its report, ‘The Indian Administrative Service Meets Big Data’, painted a portrait of a bureaucracy “hamstrung” by political interference, operating “outdated” personnel procedures and with a “mixed record” on policy implementation.
It said India’s recent rapid growth had been achieved “in spite of below-par governance”, but that that could not be relied upon to sustain the same trajectory in the future.
“The quality of India’s public sector institutions in particular has struggled to keep pace with the country’s rapid economic advancement,” the report said. “Unless India is able to reform its administrative apparatus, sustained economic gains will prove elusive.”
The report drew on the findings from a number of recent data-led surveys on the career profiles of IAS officers, which it said offered a number of new insights into the workings of the service.
Based on these the report called for sweeping reforms to the IAS, centring on redesigning recruitment procedures and reducing political interference.
“The Indian government should reshape recruitment and promotion processes, improve performance-based assessment of individual officers, and adopt safeguards that promote accountability while protecting bureaucrats from political meddling,” said report author Milan Vaishnav.
Among its recommendations, the report proposed making better use of data on new civil servants’ academic abilities and training to inform decisions on early placement of officers, and improved performance metrics to shape their careers as they develop.
It also recommended the government consider a proposal that officers deemed “unfit” for further service at certain career benchmarks be “compulsorily retired” through a transparent performance review process. “While the present government has moved in this direction, this procedure should be institutionalised,” the report said.
Another proposal was to increase the number of local IAS officers embedded within communities. This was based on a revelation from one of the studies cited by the report that officers with strong local ties are frequently linked to improved public service delivery.
The “flipside” to this is that being embedded in a locality also carries the risk of corruption, and the report called for further research into the impacts of local officers on local development outcomes.
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